It’s Feeding Time at the Zoo (book excerpt)

Animal cages at Woodland Park Zoo, 1916

Each meal time at our house is a new event.  I’m not talking about new because it’s not yesterday or tomorrow and we’re on a space-time curve  thing.  It’s new because my kids have a disease called eating amnesia where they forget how to eat.  Symptoms include; forgetting what foods they’ve eaten in the past, forgetting how to get food from their plate to their mouth, and forgetting that any words spoken through a mouth full of spaghetti are inaudible.  Their food ends up off their plates and off the table and why we bother with either I don’t know.  I guess the only reason is because if we ate on the floor, then the dogs would get all our food, instead of only some of it.

For much of my young life I was fed the same meals, lunch each day would be a peanut butter sandwich served with chips, an apple, and possibly a cookie.  Dinner once a week would be spaghetti and breakfast for dinner would be at least once a month. I remember these meals like they’re ingrained in me and portions of those sandwiches probably still are.  If I ever die an early death I would wager they find a peanut butter ball stuck in my gut.

I’m not complaining, I loved these meals but I was also ignorant. I didn’t know there were foods much less entire food groups outside of bread, pasta, and pancakes.  Now I make bon appetit meals for my family, sometimes literally coming from the pages of Bon Appetit.  I make adobo chili salsa and zucchini fritters.  I use kale, couscous, and cucumbers. Given my limited culinary upbringing I make food my wife and I enjoy, the kids are less receptive.

When our kids were first born there was a popular cookbook that advocated concealing pureed vegetables in childrens’ food.  The idea was that you would be tricking your kids into eating their vegetables, only they wouldn’t know it.  The theory sounded simple, the application, not so.  In practicality this meant, destroying your kitchen to make the purees and freezing a ton of pureed vegetables only to forget about them until two years later.  I’m blaming the system, though jamming pureed bags of prunes into the depths of the freezer was my own fault.   Instead of hidden vegetables I declared that we would make our kids eat their vegetables the regular way.

The regular way consists of this.

Step 1. Place the vegetables nicely on the plate.

Step 2. Place the plate nicely in front of your offspring.

Step 3. Commence the negotiating for them to eat the nice vegetables.

You will promise them the world and more.  You will give them anything they demand, like a bus to the airport and a plane fueled and aimed toward whatever caribbean island that holds no extradition treaty with the United States, if they would please, please take one bite.

Eventually you’ll tire of this and they will win and you’ll resign to fixing only the things they’ve eaten in the past, but even this path is filled with caution.

“What do you mean you don’t like it, you loved it last time.”  you ask the following day, sometimes lying but sometimes not.  Your kids enjoying something once and remembering that works for one food, ice cream.

Ice cream is the pinnacle.  There will never be a food that rivals the dominance that ice cream has.  Pizza is a distant second to ice cream. If Jesus had fed the hungry on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with ice cream instead of fish and bread, then Christianity would have twice the followers and the eucharistic offering would be the best part of mass.

Once ice cream gets offered there is nothing that will stop a child from eating or doing what they are asked to get it.  Clean a room? No problem.  Fix dad’s car? Where’s the socket wrench and oil pan?  Kids will do anything.  Besides offering ice cream to the young heathens who worship at its altar, there is one other way to get your kids to behave and eat a meal.  It doesn’t work all the time but it does work.

Tea parties replete with the right combination of dress up clothes and fake and real dishes will have them acting more like princesses and princes rather than the demons those characters battle.  Most often our tea parties serve biscuits and tea, which in our English tradition means crackers and juice.  It’s always like this because we never have cookies in our house.  We  (I) established long ago that if we (I) buy cookies then we (I) will eat every last one and then moan on the floor like a dog who did the same thing.

For tea parties we take our time and set the table properly.  This means I always have to look up where the flatware, cups, and plates belong, and if I’m not teaching my kids about proper dining settings then at least they’re learning how Google’s Voice Search works.  After we get the table set I bring the delicacies, carefully pouring the juice and assigning each guest the appropriate number of crackers that won’t spoil whatever meal is next, though I know this seldom works.  What happens instead is that they eat the crackers so nicely that they ask for more and I grant them this request in the hopes that the next time we eat as a family they will repeat these actions.  Of course this doesn’t work and they’ve forgotten how nicely they ate and acted at our tea party and eating amnesia sets in.  Feeding time at the zoo begins again.

This is an essay from a book I’m writing and may not be fully polished.  If you’d like to read more about the process for writing this book, here’s my diary.  

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